Dutertes orders DOJ to determine charges vs vax sellers

MANILA – President Rodrigo Duterte on Monday ordered the Department of Justice (DOJ) to determine specific charges to be filed against suspects in the alleged sale of Covid-19 vaccines and inoculation slots in Mandaluyong City.

“I am directing our Department of Justice to determine what specific charges can be made,” Duterte said in a pre-recorded meeting with some Cabinet members.

Duterte, a former prosecutor, said the alleged vaccine sellers may be prosecuted for theft and the violation of the Republic Act No. 3019 or the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act.

Interior Secretary Eduardo Año, in the same meeting, said the illegal sale of vaccines is also a violation of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) Act of 2009 that penalizes the importation, sale and administering of unregistered vaccines.

“Dahil po ‘yong ating vaccine ay under [emergency use authorization], hindi po ito puwedeng ibenta o ipagbili. So puwede po ‘yong sibilyan na kasuhan po nitong batas na ito (Because our vaccines are under EUA, they are not allowed to be sold or bought. So the civilian can be charged for violation of this law),” Año said.

Metro Manila Development Authority (MMDA) Chair Benhur Abalos Jr. earlier said the suspect may face charges such as “estafa, bribery, corruption of a public officer, or even Bayanihan Act, by taking advantage of the Covid-19 pandemic.”

Duterte, meanwhile, reminded the public that all Covid-19 vaccines are currently being given for free.

“All vaccines of our people are given for free, libre ‘yan. Huwag kayong magbayad. Wala kayong gastusin niyan. Pumunta lang kayo doon sa nagbabakuna at babakunahan ka libre (Don’t pay. You should not spend anything. Just go to vaccination sites and they’ll do it for free). Selling vaccination slot goes against the principle of equitable vaccine distribution,” he said.

On Wednesday, the suspect in the vaccine for sale scheme surrendered to authorities in Mandaluyong City.

Police are currently looking into other persons of interest in the alleged sale of Covid-19 vaccine and inoculation slots.

Reduce queue time

Meanwhile, Duterte urged local government units (LGUs) to make use of technology to reduce queue time among recipients of Covid-19 vaccines.

“Making them queue for an hour or longer exposes them to other risks. Please use technology and advanced approaches to make sure the entire process is more effective,” he said.

He suggested LGU officials to distribute cards with numbers and their assigned time to cut long lines.

“Either the day before magbigay kayo ng mga card. Simple lang naman ‘yan, may number ano ‘yong card. So ‘yong 100 ngayong araw na ‘to, 101, 102, eh kung sinong – sinong gustong magpabakuna, lumapit doon (Either the day before give them cards. It’s simple, there will be numbers on the card. So 100 will be scheduled today, 101, 102 whoever wants to get vaccinated just have to approach vaccinators),” he said.

Duterte appealed to speed up the vaccination rollout to avoid people from gathering in one area and prevent wastage due to spoilage.

“All our LGUs implementing the national vaccination program, we need to administer the vaccines quickly because we do not have a vaccine site to become a spreader in event. And not only that, kung marami na mga bakuna at ‘yang bakuna na mayroon hindi niyo puwedeng bukas-bukasin ‘yan kasi ang shelf life ‘yong bakuna will expire on a certain day (if there are many vaccines, we can’t just open them because the shelf life will expire on a certain day),” he added.

He also directed vaccine czar Carlito Galvez Jr. to ensure equitable distribution of Covid-19 vaccines across the country.

“I am directing Secretary Galvez to make a distribution parang pro rata…you divide it amongst the local government units. Sana magawa ito sa madaling panahon (I hope this can be done immediately),” he said.

The country now has four brands of Covid-19 vaccines in its inventory namely Sinovac’s CoronaVac (China), AstraZeneca (UK), Sputnik V (Russia), and Pfizer (US).More than 5 million doses of Covid-19 vaccine have been administered since the Philippines launched its vaccination drive on March 1. (PNA)

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